Good News: Sitting All Day Isn't as Bad for You if You're Fit

Good News: Sitting All Day Isn't as Bad for You if You're Fit

By ALICE PARK May 24, 2018

There is growing evidence that time spent sitting — in cars, at offices and on the couch — is having some seriously negative effects on health. Sedentary behavior has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

UC Physio

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But a new study provides encouragement that some physical activity, including relatively simple ways to improve muscle strength, may be enough to overcome some of the unhealthy effects of sitting too much.

In a study published in BMC Medicine, researchers led by Carlos Celis-Morales from the University of Glasgow analyzed data from nearly 400,000 middle-aged people in the UK. The scientists compared people’s reports on how much physical activity they did to their reports on how much time they spent in front of a TV or computer screen. To get more objective measures of people’s exercise levels, the scientists also conducted tests of grip strength, in which people squeezed a specialized device to measure their muscle strength, as well as fitness tests on an ergometer. While fitness tests are time consuming and expensive, grip strength is a useful proxy for how physically active and fit people are, says Celis-Morales, since it measures overall muscle strength and can be done quickly and easily by most doctors during an office visit.

People who had the weakest grips had a 31% higher risk of dying over the study’s five-year follow-up for every two hours they spent in front of a screen, compared to people with stronger grips who spent similar amounts of time sitting down. These people also had a 21% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 14% higher risk of getting cancer, compared to people with higher grip strength.

Essentially, for every two hours people spend sitting in front of a TV or computer, the risk of dying from any cause is about two times higher among people with lower grip strength than people with higher grip strength.